“Rublyovka” tells of one of the most important streets in Russia and the people who live here, of Russian top politicians and multi-millionaires, of their every day lives and their customs. Along with vodka, matryoshka dolls and AK-47s, Rublyovka has become a symbol of the new Russia, and its new myths. Living on Rublyovka is a symbol of success for some, and for others an example of bad taste.
But Rublyovskoe Highway has been a place for the privileged ever since it was the “Tsars’ road” in the 16th century. Here were the domains of Ivan the Terrible, the country residents of the entire Romanov dynasty, from Alexei Mikhailovich (the father of Peter the Great) to the last of the Romanovs. This picturesque area, which is rich in game, was always the favorite place for the falcon hunting of the Tsars, and the road was part of the pilgrims’ path to the Savvino-Storozhevsky Monastery of Peter the Great and Catherine the Great. Next to the sovereigns, the Russian nobility also settled here, particularly the Princes Yusupov, Shuvalov and Golitsyn.
Even as the times changed, the upper crust continued to take up residence at Rublyovka. This is where the dachas of Lenin and Stalin were located, as well as the summer residences of all the subsequent general secretaries, from Khrushchev to Gorbachev. Their comrades-in-arms also settled here (Anastas Mikoyan, Felix Dzherzhinsky, Nikolai Yezhov), as well as scientists, famous artists and writers (Mstislav Rostropovich, Andrei Sakharov, Dmitry Shostakovich), and foreign diplomats. And this all took place on this street, which is only 35 kilometers long.
During the Soviet period, General Secretary Brezhnev may have encountered Solzhenitsyn while taking a walk – he hid out at Rostropovich’s dacha while the KGB was hunting for him. Should Prime Minister Putin wish to break out of his walls and take a walk today, he could well encounter the wife of Khodorkovsky, whom he has left to rot in jail.
In the mid-1990s, Rublyovka, which borders the well-forested bank of the Moscow River with its untouched nature, was swiftly privatized by stars of show-business, authorities of the demi-monde, politicians, officials and industrial magnates, and turned into a kind of “nature reserve for millionaires”, or a Russian Beverley Hills, where it is improper not to be good-looking. Here you can find the most expensive market in the world, and the most expensive sports club, as well as the hardest boutiques to reach, and the highest fences, which makes driving along the Rublyovskoe highway in a car almost like driving through a tunnel that goes on for many kilometers.
Around Rublyovka, multi-story buildings of superior construction are erected, in which the new elite buys apartments for their parents, employees and guests. Alongside the “new Russians” – and increasingly, also careerists from the apparatus of state, who do not want to put their new wealth on show – members of the classic Soviet intelligentsia still live, who quite seriously think that there is nothing more interesting in the world than reading books. Ironically, they also count as millionaires, because real estate prices here – depending on how far the land is from Putin’s and Medvedev’s residences – reach between $40,000 and $200,000 per 100 square meters, and this price increases by 30-50% every year. A vacant piece of land can reach record prices, which one would only expect to find in central Manhattan.
In his book, Valery Panyushkin wishes to find out how the rich live, and how their daily lives function. He wishes to understand what it is like to be a person who has practically unlimited financial resources, and investigates how the Soviet and New Russian elite live together in the same place. He conceived of his book as a kind of ethnographic cross-section, the subject of which unfolds in space and time. We move from the early 1990s to the present day. At the same time we travel along the highway from Moscow to Nikolina Gora. This is the classic travel genre, which sets the themes for the author.
For example, we visit Razdory, the first village on Rublyovka. Here in the early 1990s, the nouveau riche criminal Otari Kvantrishvili was one of the first people to buy a house. He was friends with his neighbor, the long-established Rublyovka resident and economics professor Alexander Auzan, who gave him a piece of land as a present (because it was not customary at that time in Razdory to sell land to one’s neighbors), and was subsequently murdered. Thus the chapter on crime and murder on Rublyovka begins.
We travel further and visit a school – one of the very few schools on Rublyovka – as if the residents see no future for themselves, or have no intention of bringing up children. In Barvikha, we visit the Barvikha Luxury Village, a conglomerate of boutique: an introduction to a chapter about luxury as a lifestyle.
In Shukovka, we encounter the abandoned “Apple Orchard” settlement. The houses of the former top managers of Yukos are now empty. Their inhabitants had everything, but fell into disfavor, and were forced to give up their houses and depart. They are lucky if they are in London and not in jail.
On his journey along the highway and through time, the author comes across various objects and subjects which provide him with further themes: from marriage à la Rublyovka, to the peculiarities of a privileged childhood, on to architecture, lifestyle and society life on this special street – and to the question as to what motivates the inhabitants, and what they believe in.